Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is balking at the price of the Red Line transit project, telling state officials the county will contribute about half the funding it is being asked for — and only if certain conditions are met.
Kamenetz outlined his stance in a letter to state officials late last month, saying the county is willing to pay $26.5 million in "in-kind" contributions for the transit line — covering street realignments, stormwater management and sidewalk construction, among other things. The state has asked the county for $50 million, and Baltimore City for $200 million.
For its contribution, Kamenetz said, he wants the county portion of the project to come on the front end of construction. He also questioned the project's overall $2.6 billion cost estimate and its projected 2022 opening and said he is "clearly disappointed" the county has to contribute to the project at all, citing years-old plans for it to be financed entirely by the state and federal government.
"There has been much debate and discussion about whether there is enough funding to complete the project as planned, and I must protect Baltimore County taxpayers as we move forward to ensure that the County portion is completed in a timely manner," Kamenetz wrote in the letter.
The state has been negotiating local contributions from Baltimore and Baltimore County as it gears up to begin work next year on the 14.1-mile, east-west transit line, which will run from Woodlawn to East Baltimore, in part through a tunnel under the center of the city.
Adrienne Barnes, a city transportation spokeswoman, said city officials "continue to negotiate in good faith with the state" on its contribution, but otherwise declined to comment.
Kamenetz's letter came days before a July 1 deadline for the Maryland Transit Administration, which is leading the project, to report to state legislators on the city and county contributions. The MTA was granted an extension until Sept. 1 as negotiations continue, said Leif Dormsjo, deputy secretary of the state transportation department.
"We asked for a little bit more time out of deference to the local jurisdictions, so they can think through the range of ways they can come up with their local contributions," Dormsjo said.
The state will also be issuing a draft of its annual consolidated transportation plan on Sept. 1, which will include an updated total cost estimate for the Red Line.
Kamenetz and James T. Smith Jr., the state's transportation secretary and a former Baltimore County executive, are scheduled to meet soon to discuss the Red Line. Don Mohler, Kamenetz's spokesman, said the county executive supports the project and wants to see it come to fruition but is mindful the county has committed $1.1 billion to an aggressive 10-year schools improvement plan.
"Somehow I think there's been a perception from time to time that Baltimore County was somehow lukewarm to the Red Line, and that's simply not true," Mohler said. "We just want some assurances that our citizens will get the benefit."
The federal government has identified the Red Line — and the Purple Line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties — for substantial federal funding, but that prioritization is based on a number of factors, including local buy-in, Dormsjo said.
"They like to see their federal dollars go further. They like to see more skin in the game," he said. "We expressed that point to all of the executives in charge of the local jurisdictions, and they all get that, but they have all said they need some time to find the means to accomplish that, and they want flexibility."
Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said local governments may still be getting used to the idea of chipping in on major infrastructure projects as federal funding has declined, but the fact that everyone involved in the Red Line is at the negotiating table is a good sign.
"Hopefully we're going to get to the point in these discussions where this funding can be achieved," he said. "We are at an important point in time to show our commitment to this project."
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